I have ventured into “People’s History of the United States (Howard Zinn), which escaped my notice until it was recommended by a friend. After reading a few sections of it, and also an interview with Noam Chomsky from 2003, and also some history of Prescott Bush et familia, I can’t remember now in which one of them I came across the idea that our civilization has been immersed in a Hundred Years’ War for… well, the last century.
It’s a radical way of looking at recent history. It argues that there has been a single war going on since the early 1900’s, a war levelled by corporations against human beings. This ongoing conflict has spanned WWI and WWII and the Cold War, and now gallops precipitously toward WWIII.
Here’s one of the most telling observations that can be made about this Hundred Years’ War of the corporations: the truly rich families haven’t suffered significant hardships from the warfare. They have, in fact, succeeded in increasing their staggering wealth. Historically speaking, that is atypical. War has always been a means of transferring wealth from the defeated to the victors (with the conquering soldiers seizing their share of booty). When wars in the past were waged, the rich families suffered the great financial losses, because it was they who owned the wealth for which the war was waged. The peasants suffered horrific losses of crops and livestock (and often their lives), but that was collateral damage, because travelling armies didn’t have supply lines, and they fed on (and satisfied their carnal desires at) farms they crossed while marching toward plunderable castles and cities. This time, it is not the rich who are being plundered, but the peasants—the bottom four quintiles of society.
My own belief is that a small percentage of human beings born are sociopathic, and that they will use whatever methods are available in a relentless pursuit of self aggrandizement. They will take advantage of the culture and technology of their times as they deceive and trick and betray their way to maximum power and wealth. In one period of history, they launch navies and despoil coastal towns; in another they ride horses in conquests across Asia and Europe; in another they invent a priesthood that becomes the government; in another they create trusts and holding companies; in yet another they build vertical and horizontal monopolies.
That is, I’m afraid, the pattern of human history. Eventually the megalomania of the sociopaths so thoroughly perverts the normal processes of social interactions that it either burns itself out or collapses the society that it has inflamed with fever. Psychologically, the sociopath acts as a cancer, furiously replicating his ego in both grandiose displays and actual progeny, without any moral or logical restraint. His effects, however, are like those of a retroviral infection, because he subverts the immune system that should destroy him, triggers fever, and lowers the natural resistance to all kinds of opportunistic infections.
As much as I despair at the triumph today of greed-driven corporations—particularly financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan—I am no more convinced that corporations are the spawn of Satan than I am about long ships, horses, religion, and big industry being innately malicious. Corporations are the tools that the sociopaths use today, that is all. But somehow their ability to do so must be curtailed. If this means that, ultimately, corporations have to be stripped of their personhood, so be it. However, that would be unwise unless there is no other way. I think we should refer to Teddy Roosevelt’s taming of the monopolists: he did not attack them directly, but rather insisted they would no longer be allowed to choke off competition. In the case of the corporations now waging war on people, surely their weapons in the war can be blunted without ending the beneficial aspects of the institution of corporations, which do exist.
Unfortunately, rich and powerful sociopaths so effectively control our government today that we can’t elect an Andrew Jackson or Teddy Roosevelt, which means that…(ahem)…we need another Robespierre.